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If you visit a traditional sushi-ya in Japan hoping to find sushi rolls, you may often see that they lack in variety. The Japanese eateries are more about authentic nigiri sushi, while you can find all types of rolls in the US (some with really weird names!).
Just as the nigiri sushi, prepared by the hands of a master chef is a piece of art, the sushi rolls are a thing of beauty. One of my favorites is the Caterpillar roll, which looks pretty and tastes delicious. While the origins of Caterpillar roll are not clear, I believe some enterprising sushi chef in the US, created it to sell more unagi.
Regardless of the background, the beauty and awesome taste of caterpillar roll is responsible for turning something that was considered as ‘ewww’ into a favorite dish sold at posh sushi restaurants across the country. With the slimy eel perfectly hidden inside an attractive outer layer, you get to enjoy an outburst of amazing flavors.
If you have been to a sushi restaurant across the US, chances are you have seen ‘caterpillar roll’ among the different other varieties of rolls in the menu. If you haven’t tried it before, let me assure you that this roll has nothing to do with butterfly larvae and no butterflies are harmed in making it (chuckles).
What Goes Inside A Caterpillar Roll
In most sushi restaurants, you will find unagi or freshwater eel inside a caterpillar roll. However, let’s not forget that unagi is becoming an endangered species across the world. Hence, many restaurants across the US substitute it with tempura shrimps or imitation crabs. You may use other fillings such as cucumber strips to add a dash of freshness and crunchiness to the roll.
Why It Is Called A Caterpillar Roll
In this type of sushi roll, the outer layer comprising of sushi rice is adorned with thin slices of ripe avocado to make an attractive green cover. It is drizzled with dark kabayaki sauce on the top, and toasted black sesame seeds are sprinkled to add more texture to the surface. It does not take a genius to see the resemblance between a caterpillar and this style of roll.
I think that’s enough of the background to build your appetite. Let’s straightaway dive into how to make caterpillar roll (sushi roll) at home so that you don’t have to visit a restaurant or pay hefty bills every time you crave for a bite of the tasty roll.
Preparing Unagi or Eel For The Roll
The frozen unagi you get at the grocery stores is pre-cooked before they are packaged. However, you need to reheat them in a microwave or toaster oven to make it soft and tender. Here are the steps to prepare your unagi for rolls before you start putting other ingredients together.
Take a sharp Japanese knife and slit the fillet from the middle to get two pieces. The spine is located in the mid-section, and it should be removed. Although the bones are edible, the crunchiness can distract the flavor, so it’s better to remove the bones when making rolls.
Now, place the two sliced pieces together and further cut them into two halves, maintaining a horizontal 90 degrees angle. Again, cut each piece vertically in half to get perfect long and thin strips to use inside the roll.
Steps To Make Caterpillar Roll (Sushi Roll)
• 1/4 -1/5 cup soya sauce
• 1/4 cup sake (rice vinegar)
• 1/4 cup sugar
• One batch of seasoned sushi rice
• Two packs Unagi prepared as mentioned above
• Two ripe avocados
• One Japanese or Persian cucumber
• One pack of Nori
You can have a look at my recommended Ingredient here
To get that unique flavor, you first need to make kabayaki sauce. Take a small pan and add soya sauce, sake, and sugar, and bring to boiling point. Let the mixture get thick in consistency.
You will need to prepare seasoned sushi rice by cooking short-grain Japanese rice in a cooker or pot and then seasoning it with a mixture of vinegar, sugar, and salt. Find the step-by-step guide on how to make sushi rice by reading this article.
Take a perfectly ripe avocado to ensure that it is gentle enough to yield to pressure and stick to the sushi rice on the top. Cut the avocado into half and remove the pit. Make fine slices using a sharp Japanese knife and add some lemon juice to prevent it from turning brown.
Peel a Japanese cucumber, and cut into eight pieces lengthwise. I prefer using a Japanese cucumber because they have less seed than American counterparts. If you can’t find a Japanese cucumber, you may use a Persian cucumber instead.
Place the bamboo mat on a flat surface on the kitchen counter and wrap it with plastic to ensure that rice does not stick to it. Keep a bowl of water to dip your fingers when handling rice to prevent them from sticking on your hands.
Fold the Nori sheet into half to use for the roll. The fresh and high-quality Nori will easily split into two equal pieces. You may use a sharp scissor to get two equal pieces without distorting the edges. Place one-half of the Nori over the bamboo mat. It doesn’t matter which side is up because the Nori sheet is hidden beneath a layer of avocado and sushi rice.
Moisten your fingers and take a half cup of sushi rice to create a thin layer on the Nori sheet. Press gently to ensure that the rice sticks on to the Nori sheet. Don’t apply a lot of pressure or you will end up mashing the grains.
Flip over the Nori sheet so that the sushi rice is facing downwards and the Nori is facing towards you. Now place a thin strip of cucumber close to the midsection of the Nori sheet. Top it up with slices of unagi.
Put your thumbs under the sushi mat and use other fingers to hold the fillings as you roll the sushi tightly with the help of the mat. Press gently to make a compact roll. Remove the bamboo mat and use your fingers to give a proper shape to the roll. This will help to compress the rice with fillings and prevent them from falling about when you make slices.
Once the Caterpillar Roll is shaped like a full cylinder, hug the whole thing with your fingers. This will compress the rice, which will help keep it from falling apart when you slice the roll.
Pick the slices of avocado using the knife and arrange it carefully over the sushi rice. Make sure the pieces overlap each other to look like a caterpillar.
Put the plastic sheet on the roll to hold the toppings together and use the bamboo mat to hug the roll tightly. Now take a sharp knife like this and cut out equal sizes of the roll with the plastic film attached. Be very careful while slicing not to damage the shape.
Transfer the roll into a serving plate and sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds on the top to add to the appeal. Now, drizzle some kabayaki sauce and eel sauce over the roll to enhance the flavor.
To complete the look, make very fine slices of the cucumber and push them into the sushi rice part of the first piece to make them jut out like antennas. You may also use two sprouts or anything that resembles antennas of a caterpillar.
For the final touch, take a bottle of sriracha sauce and add two drops to make eyes of the caterpillar. Now, your delicious caterpillar roll is ready to enjoy. Repeat the steps mentioned above to make more rolls. Serve with soya sauce and pickled ginger.
Are There Any Vegan Alternatives For Caterpillar Rolls
If you are a vegetarian, you can still enjoy a caterpillar roll. You can substitute unagi with strips of avocado, semi-boiled carrots, or red pepper. All other ingredients can remain the same. You may add some fresh cream on top of the fillings to balance the crunchiness of the cucumber.
Follow the steps mentioned above to give the perfect shape to your caterpillar roll and savor the delight! You may experiment with different ingredients to see what tastes good. No matter what goes inside, it will still be a caterpillar roll with the avocado arrangement on the top.
How many calories in a caterpillar roll?
One Caterpillar Roll contains at least half a cup of sushi rice, cucumber, eel, and avocados. As a result, it comes around 5 grams of fat, 9 grams of protein, and 60 grams of carbohydrates.
What if I don’t like unagi?
If you are not a fan of unagi or you are conscious about consumption of the endangered species, you may use shrimp tempura or imitation crabs. You can find them at any Asian grocery store, or buy them online.
The Final Words
I know the Japanese may be amused to see the oddities that the Americans have inflicted on this traditional delicacy. Despite that, I must confess that caterpillar rolls are fun to make. They look attractive and taste equally good.
Your creative side gets to do so much in a single recipe. If I have to throw a sushi party for a bunch of kids, my first choice would be a caterpillar roll!